Independence Day

One of my adult daughters was on a vacation cruise last year and participated in a trivia contest. She emailed me to report that one of the questions was: “What is the first word of the Declaration of Independence?” Before reading on, I knew that she got it right.

I thought about that yesterday, when I had the privilege of viewing a copy of the Declaration, written in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, on display at the New York Public Library. I learned that Jefferson, perhaps unhappy with some of the editing of the Continental Congress, had sent copies of his final draft to 6 of his friends, in which he underlined portions that had been cut. Two of these copies still exist, and one is in the permanent collection of the Library. It is rarely displayed because of its fragility, but there it was – 2 modest sized sheets, written on both sides, with some of the most stirring, enduring and significant words every written.

If you haven’t read it recently (or, perish the thought, ever), read it. I made a habit of reading it to my children every July 4th, which is why I knew that my daughter would know that it starts:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And ends with a line that still has the power to move me to tears:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Happy Fourth of July.

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